by Kyoko Okazaki
published by Vertical; $16.95 US
Pink was originally published in the late 1980s, and I think it helps make sense of it — however much the story does make sense — to realize that culture had different expectations and obsessions then. It was the tail end of a decade devoted to consumerism and appearance and money, where everyone worked hard to afford the branded clothes and status symbols that showed you knew what mattered. Yet this story of young people on the loose in the city, unsure of what to do and seduced by money and sex, is also timeless. All they want is love and happiness, although those definitions can change.
You can tell the book is for mature readers from the two opening pages, both nude shots of the protagonist, Yumi. She’s an office worker by day, call girl by night in order to make enough money to buy meat for her pet. She has a crocodile because she finds the beasts “strong and they look cool.” She also loves the color pink because it looks happy. She’s a young woman valued for her appearance, drifting through life without thought to the future.
Her dad still pays her rent, and she doesn’t get along with her stepmother, a gold-digger obsessed with her appearance. Yumi has a younger step-sister, Keiko, who comes over to visit frequently and seems much older than she is. The stepmother is fooling around with a boy toy, Haruo, an aspiring novelist who doesn’t have anything to write about. Haruo, Keiko, and Yumi meet, argue about the croc, and hang out together.
Kyoko Okazaki’s art doesn’t look like what we think of as a typical manga. Instead, it’s sketchy, suggesting a portrayal instead of delineating every detail. It reminds me of fashion illustration, where evoking how something will look is more important than capturing specifics. It’s almost cartoony, suiting the sometimes ridiculous subject matter. Although black and white, there are sections of grey tone applied in large chunks to provide emotion and depth.
The little girl is bloodthirsty and the older one borderline insane when she’s not being shallow. The sexual encounters and sometimes crude language that run through the story might have been more shocking over 20 years ago. Now, though, Yumi’s decisions are almost quaint. (We’ve seen her type more often in popular culture since then.) There’s an air of playfulness throughout the book that may seem at odds with some of the content, but at the core, Yumi is still young, beautiful, hopeful, and accepting of what life brings.
The chapters are strangely incidental and weirdly fantastic, as when one of Yumi’s clients gives her a magic seed (and steals her clothes in return). As they progress, the story twists in unexpected ways, but Pink always shows the ennui and uncertainty of young life in a big city. (The publisher provided a review copy.)